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Junk food jitterbug.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Anyone who followed the dramatic deterioration of Senate Bill 560 from a muscular ban on the sale of junk food in Oregon schools to a wimpy "wellness policy" has to be wondering what happened.

People looking for clues point to how closely Sen. Vicki Walker's reconstituted bill resembles the position favored by the Oregon Soft Drink Association, which, coincidentally, has made hefty campaign contributions to Walker and to two other members of the Senate Education Committee: Sen. Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton, and Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. The three lawmakers each received $2,000 of the $91,000 the soft drink lobby poured into legislators' coffers last fall.

Walker, a Eugene Democrat who is chairwoman of the education committee, insists there's no connection between the money and the committee's rewrite of the bill. A junk food ban would have been nothing more than a narrow "feel-good bill" that would have "accomplished nothing," she said. The issue of student nutrition is much broader and should include goals for physical activities, nutrition education and parental involvement.

Those are certainly worthy considerations, but it's patently absurd to suggest that a junk food ban would accomplish nothing. Walker knows as well as anyone that Oregon schoolchildren are just going to get fatter while 198 individual school districts figure out how to contact parents, form committees, draft position papers and adopt wellness policies.

The soft drink lobby had power- ful partners pressuring legislators to yank the teeth out of SB 560 - the Oregon School Boards Association and the Confederation of School Administrators. Chronically underfunded schools have become dependent on the revenue generated by soft drink and snack vending contracts. School officials don't know how they'd replace that money.

But the original language of SB 560 did not eliminate vending machines or ban competitive food sales in schools. It allowed soda pop and sugary snacks to be sold at school events beginning after regular class hours ended.

Sponsored by Sen. Bill Morrisette, D-Springfield, the bill took dead aim at the empty calories many students consume to excess every day. It would have banned carbonated soft drinks, candy and fried pastry products while setting stricter nutritional and calorie requirements for other snack items sold in schools.

Similar bans are already in effect in the nation's largest school districts in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. Gov. Arnold Schwarz- enegger is solidly in favor of removing junk food from all California schools. Gov. Janet Napolitano last month signed into law a ban - set to take effect in 2006 - on the sale of junk food in Arizona's elementary, middle and high schools. The Seattle School Board unanimously approved a junk food ban earlier this year.

Oregon should have joined these other jurisdictions in taking real action to improve nutrition in schools. Instead, Walker has engineered a stalling tactic that serves special interests over students.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Vicki Walker dances away from tougher rules
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 16, 2005
Words:477
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